Thursday, 28 April 2016

Dr Griffith Pugh by guest blogger John Faulkner

When hiking in Britain's hilly regions you are advised to dress appropriately and always include in your pack, waterproofs and spare dry, warm clothes.  Seemingly obvious but the person who may have saved your life is an unsung hero from the conquest of Everest -  scientist Dr Griffith Pugh - the mountaineer who made it possible.
Until Everest was finally climbed, attempts had ended in tragic failure.  There seemed to be an impassable ceiling a thousand feet below it's 29,000' summit.  The Royal Geographical Society decided the 1953 expedition take a scientist, physiologist, Dr Griffith Pugh.  He had studied survival in inhospitable conditions, mostly by experiments on himself and field research. Studying endurance in freezing water he could be found at his lab in a bath of ice water recording body heat loss as he slipped into unconsciousness!  In the extremes of cold, exhaustion and altitude of the Himalayas he found ways to technically and physically prepare the expedition.  As a result, he designed new oxygen equipment, boots, clothing, down jackets, tents, cooking equipment and he insisted the team follow his strict instructions on diet, hydration, oxygen intake and hygiene for the 1953 assault.  His demands did not endear him to the expedition but not a single member suffered injury or ill health following their immense achievement.
Before the 1970s, hikers would regularly die in bad weather from 'exposure' in hilly regions. After a particular disaster during the 1964 Derbyshire Four Inns Challenge, where a group of exhausted young people had perished in wet and windy conditions, Griffith Pugh was invited to join the investigation. From having the deceased hikers kit worn and hiked in, he proved accidental hypothermia from their soaking clothes, an unexpected result. His comprehensive report to the Medical Commission contains our modern day advice to hikers.
Nowadays how to prepare for hiking and mountaineering is well documented but the science of Dr. Griffith Pugh, unsung hero of Mount Everest, is behind it.
You can see some more of his amazing life as a scientist from a Royal Society lecture given by his daughter Harriet Tuckey who uncovered and published untold his story almost lost to the history of science. See below.

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